Das Odfeld; The Odin Field
[This page by Dagmar Paulus]
Das Odfeld; The Odin Field (1888)
Wir haben dann und wann eine Vorliebe für das, was Abziehende als gänzlich unbrauchbar und im Handel der Erde nimmermehr verwendbar hinter sich zurückzulassen pflegen.
Every now and again we develop a liking for things left behind and considered completely useless in the trade of the world by people who have already moved on.
In this historical novel, Raabe tells the story of an aged former teacher, Noah Buchius, at a convent school in Nether Saxony at the time of the Seven Years’ War (1756-63). Buchius leads a lonely and secluded life in the former convent, only just tolerated by its principal. The novel begins with the ominous depiction of two flocks of fighting ravens observed by Buchius. He picks up one of the surviving birds and brings it home in order to take care of it.
In the following night, enemy soldiers attack the convent. Along with a number of other inhabitants, Buchius manages to escape narrowly and then heads the small group in an attempt to find cover from the ongoing battle on the Odfeld nearby. Their search leads them across the battlefield strewn with corpses, giving a vivid impression of the horrors of war. Eventually, the refugees temporarily find shelter in an underground cave only to be threatened by soldiers soon afterwards and narrowly saved from a gruesome end by the sudden appearance of the Duke of Brunswick. One of Buchius’ companions, the young and jaunty Thedel von Münchhausen, enthusiastically joins the Duke’s forces only to be killed immediately in the ensuing battle. Devastated and exhausted, Buchius and the other refugees eventually return to the ransacked convent, haunted by the horrors they encountered. Buchius finds his own little room and especially his beloved collection of books and historic findings in shambles, destroyed by the raven having wreaked havoc in his absence. He sets it free, unhappily acknowledging that all his attempts to save anything or anyone have been fruitless.
The general feeling of futility at the novel’s end is further emphasized by the very structure of the plot: Buchius and his friends have gone round in a large circle; at the end, he finds himself in the same place as in the beginning, and the horrendous events in between didn’t bring about anything good at all. Das Odfeld is surely one of Raabe’s most pessimistic and also most modern works, offering a sharp contrast to many historical novels of the period.
Wilhelm Raabe, The Odin Field: A Story, trans. by Michael Ritterson (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2001)
Further Reading in English
Eric Downing, ‘No Direction Home: Wilhelm Raabe’s Das Odfeld and the Archaeology of Identity’, Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift 82:1 (2008), 58-84
Further Reading in German
Heinrich Detering, ‘Apokalyptische Bedeutungsstrukturen in Raabes "Das Odfeld"’, Jahrbuch der Raabe-Gesellschaft (1984), 87-98
Walter Killy, ‘Geschichte gegen die Geschichte. "Das Odfeld"’ in Raabe in neuer Sicht, ed. by Hermann Helmers (Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, 1968), pp. 229-46
Heiko Ullrich, ‘Vom Krähenfeld aufs Odfeld und nach Hastenbeck. Wilhelm Raabes Auseinandersetzung mit Scotts Waverley. Raabe und Scott’, Euphorion 109:4 (2015)